New York Republicans have spent a long stretch in the wilderness. They haven't held a statewide office since 2006, and even in 2014, which saw Republicans take the top jobs in Maryland and Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's reelection in 2014 was a foregone conclusion.
But despite the setback, the party saw progress in GOP nominee Rob Astorino's losing gubernatorial effort. Astorino cracked 40 percent of the statewide vote, and outside of New York City, he bested Cuomo by 3 percentage points, 49 percent to 46 percent. With that in mind, party insiders have said that if they can just grab 30 percent of the vote in New York City, the state can be theirs. Thirty percent, however, isn't easy. Even in a "wave" election for Republicans, Astorino only got 18 percent.
Enter Chris Gibson, the House Republican from New York who thinks the party can close the gap. "Can the New York GOP win? Absolutely," Gibson told National Journal. "Look at our neighbors in Massachusetts. There's not a single House Republican there, but they elected a Republican governor."
In Gibson, New York Republicans see a politician who connects with voters on the campaign trail and has a strong résumé: The former Army colonel served in Iraq and Kosovo. Perhaps more important, as he vies for support from New York voters, is Gibson's moderate ideology: He is the most liberal Republican in Congress, according to NJ's annual vote rankings.
In a state as blue as New York, however, it's unclear that any Republican—no matter how moderate or talented—can make the difference in 2018. Statewide, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1. Cuomo, a strong candidate who has already beaten Republicans twice in statewide races, has the option to run again.
But Gibson has his own winning history, even in territory that appears unfriendly for Republicans. Voters in his Hudson Valley district favored President Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by 6 points in 2012—even as Gibson beat a Democratic challenger, 53 percent to 47 percent.
And in his 2014 contest with Democrat Sean Eldridge, a millionaire investor whose husband, Chris Hughes, founded Facebook and owns The New Republic, Gibson won by 30 percentage points—despite being outspent by more than 2-to-1.
Now, Gibson is eyeing his next and leaving himself plenty of room to make a tough, statewide challenge. He announced this month that he's leaving the House in 2016—partly to have two full years to prepare for a possible statewide bid in 2018.
If he does run, either for the governor's mansion or for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, he'll point to a moderate, bipartisan House record. "Legislation on Lyme disease, weather patterns, helping farmers, helping veterans—these are not partisan issues," Gibson said.
And he describes his ideas for a statewide run as similarly agreeable: create jobs, improve the state's education system, and root out corruption.
But those positions aren't Gibson's only appealing qualities, according to other New York Republicans. His moderate-to-liberal positions on social issues make party leaders optimistic about his chances in 2018. "He's pro-choice, which will help him in the city, of course," said Edward Cox, chairman of the state Republican Party. "New York City is the place where we really have to put in a lot of work."
With more time to raise money—Astorino only campaigned for about nine months—a Republican candidate should be able to buy more airtime in the expensive New York City media market. That, plus Gibson's moderation on social issues, is Republicans' plan to surpass 30 percent in the city, Cox said.
None of this means, however, that Gibson would get an automatic spot at the top of a GOP ticket in 2018. Some within the party might balk at his liberal reputation, and Astorino spokesman Bill O'Reilly said his boss is "definitely interested" in running again, hoping to build on his strong 2014 showing.
But O'Reilly did have positive things to say about Gibson as well. "He comes across as principled. He's willing to buck system," O'Reilly said of Gibson. "Rob hasn't pulled the trigger yet, so it's good that he's looking at it. He should also look at Gillibrand's seat, but we like Chris."